Yesterday was my mom's 85th birthday. It's a good age. She was born in 1924 in Detroit and grew up poor in rural Michigan. During Prohibition, her father and uncles brewed illegal beer, which they served on wooden planks in their living room...turning the house into a speakeasy when my mom and her sister were asleep.
Eventually the family came to California in search of work, and they settled in Oakland. That's where my mom when to high school and where she lived until she married my father. Mom and dad met at work, Southern Pacific Railroad, after he came home from WWII and they lived first in San Francisco and then moved to the peninsula where they raised their five kids. My mother and father were a great couple, very much in love. Sadly, he died too young in 1981 and she's never really gotten over it.
As many of you know, I'm not terribly close to my family. They're all nice people, but we have nothing in common. And mom is, sadly, deteriorating quickly. She has basically no short-term memory left. She's at that stage where she'll tell the same story several times in the space of a few minutes. She can't remember names, places, sequences of events. She'll talk to me about my father as if I'd never met the man. Last night we took her out to dinner and couldn't remember the names of the siblings who weren't there.
It's sad. And yet, because of the lack of closeness with my family (which they don't seem to feel exist) I feel detached from the loss that is to come. It's odd, because when Steve (the brother of my heart) was dying, I felt every single painful moment. Maybe that's why I'm so removed with my mom -- because I know how much it hurts and I want to spare myself.
No, that's the answer I'd like to be true. That's the sympathetic answer. The truth is I feel removed because I feel removed. Because I don't feel like I'm one of the Waltons, in spite of the fact that my mother and sisters think we are. My brothers seem to have similar feelings to mine, but maybe they're nicer than I. I wouldn't be surprised. I'm not the nicest kid in the playground. But I'm already feeling guilty because I'm not reacting the way the world would expect me to. No, not guilty. (Surprisingly.) It's just a sense of not living up to what I feel I should be. But I've never been good at persuading myself into emotions. So here I am. Detached. Once again feeling like I'm looking at my family from the outside.
The problem is that mom needs a lot of care right now. She's physically OK, but she gets incredibly lonely. My eldest sister lives with her (thankfully) but when she's at work or goes away for the weekend, mom is by herself. And she's never been good at being alone. I know I should spend time with her. Take her out, have her over, go visit her at her house to keep her company. The fact is I'm just selfish enough that it's hard for me to be there. I'm just not nice enough to be good at pretending I haven't heard her tell me about this one episode from grammar school seven times in the past two hours.
When Steve was dying there was a joke among my friends that I was the cold-hearted bitch because I didn't show how much it was killing me to watch my best friend die. But the truth is, deep down, I can be a cold-hearted bitch. It's hard to put yourself out, to do something difficult for someone that you don't love as deeply as I loved Steve. And I guess I just don't feel for my mother what a daughter "is supposed" to. I'll do my best. I guess my 2009 resolution should be to spend more time with her, to give my sister a break and do what is right. But it's going to be a damned hard resolution to keep.
How do you force yourself to do something difficult when you don't feel the emotional need to do it?